When Kevin Hope talks with other Sounders fans, there’s one question he gets asked often. “Where do you get all the rainbow gear?”
Hope shows up to every Sounders awash in rainbow gear. For him, maintaining a high level of visibility is important as both a gay man and a devout Sounders supporter.
“I believe [if you're an LGBTQA fan], you've got to come out, you've got to be visible, those rainbows need to be seen,” he says, recently, on the eve of the Sounders’ annual Pride Day, tonight, when the team takes on Orlando City (10 pm ET, MLS LIVE). (The club is offering a slate of special activities and presentations to mark the occasion; read about them on the Sounders site.)
Hope, of course, will not be alone in representing visibly on Wednesday night, or any night at CenturyLink Field. Technicolor paraphernalia lends an unmistakable presence to Pride of the Sound, the team’s all-LGBTQA supporters’ group. If you’ve never heard of them before, but you’ve been to a Sounders home game, you’ve almost certainly seen them.
While Pride of the Sound is only a few years old — formed as a subgroup within Emerald City Supporters — they’ve become an indelible patch in the quilt of fans at every home game at CenturyLink. The group was founded as an offshoot in 2013, with the aim of “[creating] an environment where hostility towards others based on gender or orientation were not tolerated.”
According to their Facebook page (which currently boasts nearly 400 members), Pride of the Sound’s mission is to “make a community within our community & make friends within the ECS hang out before or after games, do stuff on non-game days” as well as to “[s]upport each other and ABOVE ALL support our boys 110% on the pitch.”
Hope, a telecom engineer who works in public safety, connected with the group soon after they coalesced in 2013. “I bought my first season ticket in 2012, and then in 2013 I had been seeing the rainbow flags flying in [the Emerald City Supporters section, GA 121-123], so I started to seek them out. That's what got me to join ECS," he says. "Over the past few years I started to step up my involvement with the group.”
A South Texas native, Hope lives in Seattle with his pug Starbuck, goes to hockey games with friends in MLS’ offseason, and is a huge Star Trek fan. But for Hope, the Sounders and Pride of the Sound aren’t just pastimes, like those other activities — he’s actively engaged in helping to build a community and a movement, taking on more responsibilities and going on more adventures every year.
Part of that has involved helping Pride of the Sound emerge as key contributors in ECS’ ongoing charity and community service work, most recently raising funds for the Seattle chapter of Lighthouse for the Blind. They’ve also become an important partner with a club that’s actively reaching out to its LGBTQA community. The club, and ECS, have carved out a space for Pride of the Sound to be more involved and more visible with matchday activities.
“I feel very connected and very welcome and given the chance to take on volunteer positions and some sort of visibility around helping out and connecting with the people in charge,” says Hope.
Tonight, for the Sounders’ annual Pride Night, Pride of the Sound will naturally be involved in giveaways and pre-match ceremonies ahead of kickoff against Orlando City. The group will also appear in Seattle’s Pride March this Sunday, which will also feature several Sounders players marching as Grand Marshals.
This week, of course, marks a special time of the year for Pride of the Sound. But for the rest of the season, their match days look like just any other fan’s. Hours before kickoff, they gather at Fuel in Pioneer Square to connect with each other and get hyped for the game.
Pride of the Sound fans at a Sounders match. Photo courtesy of Kevin Hope
An hour before the opening kick, Pride of the Sound members link up with other ECS folks for the March to the Match, the high-church spectacle that serves as a centerpiece in Sounders fan culture.
During the match they do what every MLS fan does— sing, hold up scarves, clap in unison, and wave flags. After the game they retire to Temple Billiards until the bulk of the post-match traffic disperses. In other words: They’re just like any other supporters’ group.
Except, of course, in all the ways they aren’t. Every MLS team has its share of LGBTQA fans, but visibility within particular supporter bases can vary wildly. Pride of the Sound are one of only two explicitly LGBTQA supporters’ groups in the league. (The other is Impact LGBT+ in Montreal, founded in 2015.) Other groups may have strong LGBTQA contingents — Timbers Army and the Midnight Riders among them — but Pride Of The Sound remain pioneers of community representation in MLS.
They also maintain regular contact with other LGBTQA fans throughout the league, particularly in Orlando, Atlanta, and Toronto. Slowly but surely, a movement is building, much like the one that gave rise to Pride of the Sound in the ECS section four years ago.
Pride of the Sound also hopes to encourage and welcome other fans who may or may not be out, especially in the face of any unsavory remarks or chants. And Hope himself says he’s found solidarity in numbers with the group. “I was very aware that I was in a very heterosexual space,” he says of when he first started attending matches, “and that spaces like this have been dangerous for me in the past. So I worked very hard at being invisible and blending in."
With his newfound friends in the Pride of the Sound, though, that’s changed. “I stopped being afraid,” he says.